Sunday, 5 August 2012
Chris Wormell & the Adnams campaign
Chris Wormell crept up on the British people unawares and without hardly anyone knowing his name, became part of the visual culture. Not that he was the first graphic artist to ever do this. He only joins a distinguished company that includes Eric Fraser, Edward Ardizzone, Paul Hogarth and, last but not least, Claud Lovat Fraser. How do they bring off this visual coup d'etat? There are many good graphic artists who never achieve any popular status. Is it purely talent and, if so, what kind of gift do they have?
With Eric Fraser it was a matter of tapping into the visual DNA and adapting the wood-engraving style that had become so prevalent by the 1930s. Ardizzone was more subtle. His use of the soft colours and ballet poses of French rococco led us somewhere we vaguely knew about although we couldn't say why. Like Fraser, Paul Hogarth made use of a recent style, in his case the main ploy was to make use of the shape-shifting psychedelia of the mid-sixties. The best of them though, was Lovat Fraser, with his canny blend of the popular C18th chapbook manner and the sophistication of the French Directoire revival. In his short career he produced something that was generic, waggish and appealing.
Without ever have gone anywhere near an art school, let alone the Royal College, Wormell took up some engraving tools in 1982 and taught himself how. By then the revival of British wood-engraving had begun. Everywhere people were fed up with the often boorish, academic and basically uninteresting art of the seventies and began to look elsewhere. As you see from the adverts here, Wormell looked to the colour graphics of the 1920s and 1930s and simply brought them up to date. He exchanged soft-focus nostalgia for Friends of the Earth.
That said, I am a great fan of Wormell. I gave a copy of his Alphabet to my great nephew and before I knew where I was his mother was pointing out his work in Waitrose and, as it happens, it was another member of the family who is a partner of the firm who took Wormell on to make the linocuts you see here for the Southwold brewery of Adnams in (I believe) 2004. (It was their art director who had the the bottle top idea). They called it 'Beer from the coast' so going down the pub turned into a trip to the seaside, an England without ideology. You only have to scroll down to the recent post on Arabella Rankin to see the kind of fine artist that served as a precedent for Wormell. His work is alot easier to come across than hers but will cost you quite a bit more. Failing that, visit one of the Adnam's pubs in East Anglia and swipe one of their beer mats. His work is there as well.